If a brunch could be bipolar, brunch at the Federalist would be it. We Bitches were taken through multiple highs and various lows in one morning, all before 2 p.m., no less. Half of the experience, half of the dishes, half of the service—was amazing. The other half? Seriously subpar.
For starters, let’s explain the ‘shtick. The Federalist, located in the Madison Hotel on 15th Street, recently launched its farmers market brunch, which is served solely on Sundays. For $35, you are treated to a three-course brunch. First, you pick a series of dishes from the communal brunch table. Then, you order an entree of your choice from the menu. Lastly, family-style desserts are served to the table.
Upon arrival, we believed that this $35 included bottomless mimosas and brunch cocktails, but the waitress clarified this was for an additional $20, which is expensive. Then, they also charge you separately for coffee, tea, or soda, which is both expensive and irritating. So, if we had had coffee, mimosas and brunch, it would be, oh, $65 and change a person. And that’s a hefty price tag.
As for the space, the place is gorgeous, newly renovated, very fancy. Perfect for family brunches, and we felt a bit weird being there with rowdy friends. It was quite empty when we were there, save for our two large-and-connected groups, but we also spotted Michael—the Washington Lobbyist—from across the restaurant.
We sat down and our waitress was super friendly and accommodating, bringing out plenty of coffee served in charming silver coffee pots, and explaining how the brunch would play out.
The Harvest brunch is great in concept, but, to quote Clueless, is rather Monet in execution. From afar the table looked gorgeous: tiny gorgeous plates, flowers, lots of interesting colors and flavors. But when you get up close, the fruit had clearly been sitting out there for most of the morning. Nothing was quite fresh, and nothing was particularly noteworthy. We appreciate the small bites, but they must be amazing small bites. Becca was not impressed.
The lows? The tomato consomme was weird. As mentioned, the fruit was icky. The salmon rilletes with fresh dill and creme fraiche had been sitting out for far too long. No one wants warm smoked salmon—eeshk.
The highs? Specifically, the watermelon beet salad was amazing. The corn and red pepper salsa? Another win for the small plates.
After the highs and lows of the communal Harvest table, out came the carbohydrates en masse. The brunch breads, baskets of fresh, hot mini piping biscuits and corn bread muffins, were delicious. Fluffy, flavorful and comforting the biscuits and muffins were served with butter and jelly and enjoyed by all of us around the table.
Becca’s disappointment continued with her Benedict. She was rather unhappy because it was tiny. This might have been because the poached eggs and ham were set on one of their tiny little biscuits cut in half. The biscuits are great as starters, but under a Benedict, she wanted a fluffy English muffin or an enormous fluffy biscuit, not a tiny hard one. Sadness for poor Becca and her Benedict.
The potatoes served with both the Benedict and the omelet were delicious: oily, flavorful and salty. They were seasoned with paprika, served with sauteed onions and topped with chives. Damn good potatoes and Cori Sue ate all of Becca’s without shame.
Meanwhile, Michael had the Benedict and here was more satisfied than the Bitches. Our friend Katie had the omelet, which was enormous, delicious and served with those stellar potatoes. Another win for the Federalist.
Cori Sue’s pancake souffle was the real winner of the morning. It was a pancake souffle served in a mini cast iron pot with a light creamy yogurt sauce, jelly, and syrup—allowing you to concoct your souffle how you’d like. The dish was piping hot, fluffy, eggy, and topped with cinnamon sugar. This definitely blew any typical pancake dish out of the water.
The service was schizophrenic. The coffee, which was delicious, kept coming and that was great. The server was lovely when she was there, but she often disappeared for long lengths of time, leaving us to wonder if anyone was in the restaurant besides us. And, can we have the check? Who do we even ask? Should we go out to the lobby? Helloooo?
The dessert plate is like the harvest starters—great in theory: You’re served a big plate of options from the pastry chef, plus milk and cookies to boot. We were all very excited about milk and cookies. But, the cookies were rather hard, there wasn’t enough milk to go around, and the other desserts were not miraculous. If we order a dessert flight, we want a medley of creativity, a la Birch & Barley.
The Bitches say: B-. The space is resplendent, but the service and the cuisine hit or miss. There’s real potential there: Maybe play some fun music and make it not feel so empty? Maybe work on the freshness and creativity of the dishes? But right now it just feels like a hotel brunch that everyone forgot.
The Madison Hotel
1177 15th Street N.W.
(202) 587- 2629